As if in a dream, I tore through my old notebooks to convince myself that none of the old love letters existed.
I never saved the electronic versions of the letters Frederic and I exchanged. I would savor them for a day or two then delete. I once said that I had done it on principle — so that he and I could grow and change as we both recovered. In reality, I’d done it out of fear: afraid of the meaning; afraid of the power; afraid of the void there would be when the words turned to bullets and barbs.
And these are the things you learn when you are a little girl: the world is a big scary place; men are bad; things go to shit. Best to be out of the blast radius when the world, men, and shit all go boom.
With a high fever on Monday and Tuesday, I felt strangely compelled to convince myself of the obvious — that the remnants of the lover had been purged and that only the demon remained. It had been a year since I last saw him; three years since that day in Westchester.
So with the thermometer between my lips — beeping — reading 104.3, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, sifting through the contents of the envelopes glued to the backs of my many black notebooks. Was I looking for an answer? Was I looking for more questions? I had erased him. What more did I need to know?
But I hadn’t.
As it so happened, I had obliterated only the Very Bad Man, and the lover remained instead. I had, over the years, printed out hard copies of the letters in which he quoted speeches and poems; I had saved the pages where we had whispered in ink our fears and insecurities. I had held on to the promises; the jokes; the intimate things that lovers say.
I had only purged the pain.
This can’t be, I thought, fever surging and swirling; head pounding. This was a very bad man; they had been very bad days. In his last letter to me, he’d said that he reduced our relationship to an “episode.” How could I have kept the joy and released the sorrow? How could I not have learned from my mistake?
But now, the fever has broken, and I realize this: I have learned. To take the great joy away from a painful thing, without overthinking, is a gift I never thought I’d know. For me to have been badly stung and yet rejoice in the beautiful, permanent part of the wound — that is perhaps the greatest legacy a Very Bad Man could ever have left me.